Miami is home to a thriving community of creators. Anyone who lives in Miami knows that art and culture prosper in this city. With the covid-19 pandemic, artists are missing the ability to connect directly with audiences and share their passion. This is having a huge financial impact on the Miami-Dade County cultural and arts community.
In response the Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation joined forces with the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs in a private-public partnership, to launch the Miami-Dade Artists Support! (MAS!) grants program. The first round of the MAS program launched in June. 540 artists were selected to receive one-time grants of $500 totaling $270,000. The use of the MAS grants awarded to artists we’re unrestricted. A second deadline of August 31st was announced recently, To find out more about Miami-Dade Arts Support Grant program click here.
I had the opportunity to interview Micheal Spring, the director of the department of cultural affairs in Miami-Dade County for the past 35 years. Michael has played a huge role in growing Miami’s cultural community into a billion-dollar industry. During our interview, I discovered more about him, his work, the MAS grant program, as well as information on resources and tools available to help artists during the pandemic, and much more.
“In today’s troubled world, the arts can and must help us find a way to value and celebrate the cultures, heritage, and rights of all people.”- Michael Spring
You were trained in studio arts as a painter. When did your passion for the visual arts start?
I was fortunate to have my interest in the arts strongly encouraged by my parents from my earliest childhood recollection. My mother was a creative person who showed me the joy of a life of the imagination and my father supplied me with an endless library of books about artists and the arts.
What drew you to the department of cultural affairs?
It combines two of my central interests: supporting the work of artists and helping to make the world better.
I have two roles there: 1) I serve as director of the Department where I manage one of the largest and most progressive local arts agencies in the nation; and 2) I work in Mayor Gimenez’ office as senior advisor overseeing the County’s parks, libraries and arts portfolio.
The department supports the arts through investing grants in artists and arts organizations; increasing access to and participation in the arts for people of all backgrounds, means and abilities; improving and building cultural facilities; and commissioning public art to improve government buildings and spaces.
With the Coronavirus pandemic, many artists, artist-entrepreneurs, and cultural businesses are struggling to survive. What words of advice would you like to share with them?
I have said that artists and cultural organizations survive on the fumes of encouragement. So, we are busy encouraging them in every way possible to make it through this unprecedented crisis. My colleagues in the arts community continue to be remarkably resourceful, determined, and creative.
Can you tell me about the MAS grants program launched in June?
The MAS! Grants program was launched to help our diverse artists of all disciplines whose lives and livelihoods have been severely impacted by COVID-19. With County funds and the generous support of The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, we were able to provide 540 artists in Miami-Dade County with $500 each. This is an incredible example of a private-public partnership to help these “gig” workers who have lost jobs and opportunities
For those that missed the deadline, there is a second-round open now, and our department regularly sends e-bulletins to artists and arts organizations with opportunities. You can sign up to receive these notices by going to the department’s web site, www.miamidadearts.org, and clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of the opening page
The Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs is launching the Miami-Dade Arts Support Action Center. What is the goal?
The goal of the Miami-Dade Arts Support Action Center is to provide an easy-to-find and easy-to-use web site for arts organizations and artists to access the Department’s COVID-19 relief resources. Our department’s deputy director Marialaura Leslie has been an indomitable, creative force for all of this work to help the cultural community survive the pandemic.
Over the past 35 years, you have done so much for the artists and cultural organizations in Miami Dade. You practically launched Miami’s cultural evolution and transformed the meaning of Art in the city of Miami. What are some of the changes you have seen in Miami’s contribution to the arts since you started working with the department of cultural affairs?
Our elected officials and civic leaders recognize the arts as an integral part of what makes Miami-Dade County a great place to visit, grow a business and raise a family. This recognition of the importance of the arts has served as the catalyst to prioritize serious public and private sector investment necessary to build one of the world’s newest, most diverse and dynamic cultural centers.
What is one of the most challenging parts of what you do?
Time in a day to get to all of the incredible opportunities that creativity, imagination, and the arts offer continues to be the daily challenge. It’s a good problem to have!
How can artists and small business work together?
Artists and small businesses already work closely together. A great example is our public art program; artists buy materials and often contract with small businesses to help them fabricate and install art works created for public buildings. We help make these connections.
How has the quarantine been going for you? Has staying home given you the chance to focus on creating art?
It is busier than ever. Overseeing parks, libraries and the arts during a pandemic has created an additional and critically important layer of work essential to help and protect people. Nonetheless, there is always a sketchbook, pencil and iPad at hand for creative ideas.
One day in the near future, the Coronavirus pandemic will come to an end. When it does, what two cultural activities do you look forward the most on doing?
My favorite part about what I do is whenever I can actually experience the arts. That is the most joyous part of a day for me. With that said I have no “favorite children” in regard to arts activities and look forward to getting back to theaters and museums for the magic of experiencing the arts “live.” I really do miss seeing my colleagues in the department in person – they are talented and passionate about our work and they inspire me every day. I long for the simple act of strolling through the office and catching up with their professional challenges and observations about life.
“Whenever I can actually experience the arts, that is the most joyous part of a day for me.”
Having successfully served the Department of Cultural Affairs in Miami-Dade for thirty-six years and having worked in leadership positions serving the top arts organizations in America, has your idea of what art means changed in any way since you started working in the Department of Cultural Affairs in Miami-Dade ?
I am grateful that I have had this incredible opportunity to learn and experience more about all of the arts. The way that I see people and the world is deepened and enriched by this privilege of experiencing the ideas, emotions, and challenges presented by arts organizations and artists.
My proudest accomplishment is engaging an incredible cadre of elected officials, business leaders, and talented staff to join in this remarkable adventure of creating a great arts community. However, the work is far from done. The department and I remain committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to the arts for all people. In today’s troubled world, the arts can and must help us find a way to value and celebrate the cultures, heritage, and rights of all people.
I learn every day from so many people, but I am fortunate to have had parents who provided me with values, determination, and love of the arts. I also am so lucky to have a wife who loves me and upon whose care and guidance I so thoroughly rely.
To find out more about Miami-Dade Arts Support Grant program click here.